|WASHING THE HANDS & DEFEAT
Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Twentyone
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
July 22, 2018
If you are able, would you stand with me as we come before God’s word this morning. Since we’re looking at 23 verses this morning, we’re going to divide up into parts for our reading. You all get to be the narrator - meaning you get to read what’s in black. You all get to be the Pharisees - meaning you get to read what’s in green. Because the Pharisees at times were green with envy. And you all get to be Jesus - meaning you get to read what’s in red. Because Jesus spoke in... red.
Now when the Pharisees gathered to Him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of His disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is unwashed.
(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do no eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.)
And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
And He said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men..’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And He called the people to Him again and said to them, “Hear Me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
And when He had entered the house and left the people, His disciples asked Him about the parable.
And He said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
And He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within, and they defile a person.
Let’s walk through this with Jesus and then we’ll think through how Jesus’ application connects with us.
Verses 1 and 2 are The Setting - the where, when, why, and what of whaaat’s up.
Where is probably at Capernaum. Which is here and looks like this.
When is after what we’ve been looking at the last few Sundays. Jesus feeding 5 to 10,000 people with a 5 loaves of really cheap bread and 2 really salty dried fish.
Jesus sending His disciples across the Sea of Galilee on a night cruise that becomes a nightmare battling against the wind until Jesus walks across the water and gets in the boat and the sea is instantly calm and they end up at Gennesaret.
And then Jesus’ ministry in and around Gennesaret where large crowds of people have been bringing people needing healing to Jesus and Jesus healing them and teaching about the Kingdom of God.
Jesus has been working - through all that - to help His disciples connect the dots. To understand and grab the life changing significance of the good news - Jesus is God in the flesh and blood of our humanity - the Messiah - the Savior - that the Jews have been waiting for and that we all are desperate for. And how we all need to individually respond to Jesus.
We know that what Jesus has been doing and teaching has led to growing controversy and conflict. Jesus hasn’t run away from all that drama. He hasn’t been intimidated by it. And even though all that conflict hasn’t been on His agenda it has been there and it’s been growing and it is the why that this delegation of Pharisees and scribes has arrived from Jerusalem.
The Pharisees were respected for their devotion to the Law of Moses and their preservation of oral tradition and how to apply all that in the day-to-day of living life.
They had taken the original 10 Commandments and instructions on how to keep them and expanded those out to 613 commandments and then carefully constructed a system of additional rules and regulations and traditions and interpretations to help them and others live rightly with God by their efforts at keeping the Law.
The Scribes were the religious lawyers. They were the “go to guys” when someone - like the Pharisees who were working hard living by all that - when someone needed an explanation - an interpretation - of the Law and how it applied to the day-to-day of life
The Scribes were the ones who meticulously copied the Old Testament to preserve it - to keep it from decay and corruption. They were the ones who were working to pass down the rabbinic traditions and teachings and interpretations and applications of the law - to preserve and pass all that down through generations. So they knew the Hebrew Scriptures like no one else knew the Hebrew Scriptures.
Most Pharisees and Scribes hated Jesus because of what Jesus was teaching and claiming about Himself and what Jesus doing and who Jesus was associating with - sinners and tax collectors and Gentiles. Jesus was the opposite of who they were. And Jesus didn’t fit into their understanding of God and what it meant to live rightly before God and He was gaining a following - and they hated Him.
Back in chapter 3 - during an earlier confrontation with the Pharisees - Mark records that the Pharisees went away looking for ways to kill Jesus. Which is why they’re here.
Which leads to what this confrontation is about.
Jesus was in a totally different league than the local Pharisees. They were just outmatched - trying to win arguments and sway people. These Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem were the heavy hitters - the hired guns - from Jerusalem. The Pharisees and scribes that had come from Jerusalem to once and for all deal with Jesus - to discredit and dispatch Him.
First, they needed to discredit Jesus - to run a smear campaign. Because Jesus was way too popular to just take out directly. So they needed to discredit Jesus first and then - after nobody would really care - Jesus being old news - then they’d have Jesus killed. No Jesus. No controversy. It’s all good.
What they’ve probably been doing - between Gennesaret and Capernaum - was like the early rounds of prize fight. Following Jesus around. Checking out Jesus and His disciples. Taking notes. Looking for weaknesses - vulnerability. Planning how to get to Him and to go for the knock out.
Which leads to this gathering - circling in for the first blow - what is this minor issue about ceremonial hand washing.
Which brings us to The Accusation.
“Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
Not to trivialize the accusation. But to give us an idea of just what this would be like today.
Let’s say your family tradition before meals was to say the prayer: “Rub-a-dub-dub. Thanks for the grub. In Jesus’s name. Amen.”
Before every meal you said that prayer. To acknowledge that the food came from God. To demonstrate that we’re truly thankful to God for the food. So that, to not say that prayer would be saying that we thought more about our ability to provide for ourselves than about God taking care of our needs. To the point where not saying that particular prayer was like not really believing in God. Meaning our whole relationship with God was questionable if we aren’t saying that particular prayer.
We’re tracking on how crucially important it is for us to say that prayer?
That’s what the Pharisees and scribes were doing. Only - instead of prayer - they were using hand washing as the test for being right with God.
The Pharisees and the Jews didn’t eat unless they washed their hands - because it was tradition along with other traditions. Traditions that were part of their making sure that they were right with God.
In verses 3 and 4 Mark explains what that washing looked like for his Gentile readers - and us - who are not familiar with “the tradition of the elders”.
Alfred Eldersheim in his book “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” escribes in more detail what Mark briefly touches on - what it looked like for the Jews to wash - to purify themselves - to get right with God before meals.
“As the purifications were so frequent, and care had to be taken that the water had not been used for other purposes, or something fallen into it that might discolour or defile it, large vessels or jars were generally kept for the purpose. These might be of any material, although stone is specially mentioned. It was the practice to draw water out of these with what was called a natal, antila, or antelaya, very often of glass, which must hold (at least) a quarter of a log - a measure equal to one and a half ‘egg-shells.’ For, no less quantity than this might be used for affusion [for pouring]. The water was poured on both hands, which must be free of anything covering them, such as gravel, mortar, etc. The hands were lifted up, so as to make the water run to the wrist, in order to ensure that the whole hand was washed, and that the water polluted by the hand did not again run down the fingers. Similarly, each hand was rubbed with each other (the fist), provided the hand that rubbed had been affused [poured on]; otherwise, the rubbing might be done against the head, or even against a wall. But there was one point on which special stress was laid. In the ‘first affusion,’ which was all that originally was required when the hands were not Levitically ‘defiled,’ the water had to run down to the wrist… If the water remained short of the wrist… the hands were not clean. Accordingly, the words of St. Mark can only mean that the Pharisees eat not ‘except they wash their hands to the wrist.” (1)
Next time one of the kids or grandkids complains about having to wash with soap try suggesting this. Just saying.
All of that detailed - tedious - ritual was what the Pharisees saw as an expression of their love for God’s law and for God Himself.
“Defiled” is the opposite of that. It literally means to take something that is set-apart for God and make it like everything else or everyone else.
“We're God’s chosen people. We’re right with God. Your disciples are eating like pagan ungodly Gentiles because they haven’t washed their hands according to the tradition of the elders.”
Christians either pray the prayer before meals or they’re just pagans like everyone else.
Behind that is the why and the what of “If that’s what you’re teaching your disciples than you’re an ungodly pagan leading people away from the traditions and belief of our people and no one should be following you.” Discredit Jesus Round One.
In verse 6 Marks opens up to us Jesus’ Realty Check.
Jesus - rather than rolling over - comes back swinging. He calls them hypocrites.
“Hypocrite” comes from the Greek word “upocrites” meaning an actor or someone who pretends to be something they’re not.
To clarify what He means by hypocrite Jesus quotes Isaiah. This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men..’
Point being - verse 8: You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.
The prophet Isaiah - in his day - Isaiah mourned the loss of true - committed at the heart level - relationship with God that God desired - that God’s people had traded in for a relationship with God that was based on their rituals. Jesus is pointing out that the Pharisees were doing the same thing.
“You guys are acting like you’re right with God. But you’re not right with God. At the heart level you are a long way from God.”
It wasn’t that the Pharisees were trying to be hypocrites or that they even realized that were acting like hypocrites. They were really sincere in what they were doing and their motivation was actually pretty right on.
But in their misguided attempts at being right with God they’d traded in what God had commanded - what God had said, “This is what a heart-level committed relationship with Me looks like” - they’d traded that in for their own man-made traditions. In reality they’d gone so far away from God in all that - that standing right in front of them was God incarnate and they were condemning Jesus as a heretic.
To make His point really really clear Jesus takes one of the Pharisees traditions and compares it to Scripture. Starting with Commandment number 5. Which is…verse 10... “Honor your father and your mother.” (Exodus 20:12)
Then Jesus adds a quote from Exodus 21:17 in which God forbids disrespecting parents under penalty of death. Try that one on the kids or grandkids sometime. “Disrespect me and you die.” (Leviticus 20:9)
Are we tracking with Jesus? The why and the what of the Pharisees was to discredit and destroy Jesus. Jesus is turning the tables and is coming after them big time. “You all deserve death because you’re not honoring your father and your mother.
Let’s back up. The tradition of the Pharisees is what Jesus refers to in verse 11 as “corban.” Which was a technical term that described something as being set apart only to be used for God. (Leviticus 1:2,3)
That could be anything - people, money, land, possessions, inheritance - whatever. Call it “corban” and it only gets used for God.
Which is what the Pharisees would do. They would make a vow - swear an oath - dedicating something as “corban.” “I vow that whatever - possession - money - whatever it is - even myself - I vow that this thing is now “corban” - set apart only for God.”
In Numbers 30 God takes that so seriously that God says those vows are unbreakable. We can’t vow to do something and then not do it. Vows are binding. A vow took precedence over any other normal obligations - like obeying the Ten Commandments - like honoring our father of mother. (Numbers 30:2-4)
So the Pharisees we could dedicate something - even themselves to God - which would release them from all other duties - like taking care of their dear aged parents - honoring them.
And of course - having dedicated something to God - we could still use that for ourselves as we’re serving God - like the 523 horsepower 2018 Maserati Quattroporte - top speed 193 mph - retail at just a tad over $105,000. Great for Mexico missions trips. Merced to Puerta Trampa in just under 2.6 hours.
Mom and dad are doing just fine in the old folks home and we’re spending their nest egg serving God. Sweet.
Point being - the Pharisees had found a loop hole in the law that they’d used to turn the law against itself as a pretext for disobeying other laws when it was convenient for them to do so.
Which Jesus pointed out along with saying - verse 13 - they did many such things like that. It was they way the Pharisees did life. That was their tradition.
“You guys are acting like you’re right with God. But - heart level - you’re not right with God.”
Verses 14 to 23 are Jesus’ Explanation
Jesus calls the crowd over to Him. He begins with “Hear Me, all of you, and understand.”
“All of you” meaning whoever was there. Pharisees, scribes, enemies, followers, paparazzi, disciples. The role of law and tradition in the life of the people is huge and a sharp dividing line between Jesus and the Pharisees. It is crucial that they understand Jesus’ explanation of the true purpose of the law and the role of tradition in our relationship with God.
Jesus tells them: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
Which to us is a seemingly simple statement that would have rocked the first century Jewish world to the core.
In the Old Testament God had told His people what kind of food they could eat and what kind of food they couldn’t eat. Food you can eat is clean. Food you can’t eat is... unclean. And God had told His people that exposure to certain things made them unclean. All that affected their relationship with God and their relationship with God’s people.
So if they were unclean God had prescribed certain ceremonial things that God’s people needed to do in order to get restore their status before God and His people. In order to become ceremonially clean before God so that they could rejoin the community of God’s people and enter the Temple to worship God and make sacrifices.
It seems like God’s people - up until the time that they were hauled off into exile in Babylon - that God’s people understood what God was showing them in all that. God’s people seemed to understand that touching the carcass of some animal or eating some unclean food didn’t make someone sinful or immoral. Or in a similar way doing some kind of ceremonial washing ritual didn’t make someone a moral or sinless person.
It was the heart level attitude of faith and obedience to the God of the Covenant - their heart level relationship with God - in the midst of the day-to-day of what can separate us from God - it was their heart-level by faith commitment to God expressed through their obedience to living life God’s way - living clean and pure - that God was focusing on.
Somehow while God’s people were in exile in Babylon - maybe because of the destruction of the Temple and not being able to make the proper sacrifices which led to the introduction of synagogues and scribes and a clinging to the Law. Maybe it was all that and God’s people clinging to what it meant to be Jews living in a foreign land - hanging onto language and culture and tradition - somehow in all of that God’s people began to see devotion to the Law as what made one right before God.
Meaning that 500 plus years after the exile the Pharisees equated moral righteousness with ceremonial cleanliness. What one did or did not do made one right - or not right - with God.
God’s people - 1st Century Judea - that’s what God’s people had been raised with. That’s what they’d been taught. That’s what they understood. They’d been told for generations that obeying the rules and observing the rituals was what made one righteous. They’d been taught from birth to see God’s dietary laws and God’s moral laws as equal.
Jesus is saying, “It’s not what someone eats or drinks or touches - or how one washes their hands or washes their cups or pots - that defiles someone. It’s what one does coming from an impure heart that messes up our relationship with God.”
Then - in verse 17 - after the accusation by the Pharisees and Jesus’ reality check and explanation - Jesus enters “the house” - probably His ministry headquarters in Capernaum - leaves the crowd - gets alone with the disciples - who ask Jesus to explain the parable - His illustration about washings. “Jesus can you explain your explanation?”
Not because the disciples are just dense. But because the disciples were the product of the same culture and hypocritical theological traditions as the Pharisees. Jesus is rocking their world just like Jesus is rocking everybody else’s world. But unlike the Pharisees and scribes that are trying to hang onto their control and power and self-righteousness - the disciples are asking because they want to understand - to go there with Jesus.
So in verses 17 and 18 Jesus cycles back to His earlier illustration - emphasizing His point - nothing that someone eats is going to make them morally wrong before God. Food - even ceremonially unclean food - it goes in our mouths and into our stomachs - not our hearts - and following the natural process of how a GI tract works - it gets expelled.
Mark - for his Gentile readers - like us - Mark adds “Thus He declared all foods clean” - meaning the Christians are not bound by the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament. We can’t apply the Mosaic Law to our lives like it applied to the nation of Israel because this isn’t about keeping ceremonial law.
Emphasis: Our relationship with God is about our hearts before God.
Verse 21 - Jesus - pounding the point home: Sin originates in the heart.
To help His disciples get that Jesus lists out a bunch of sins. Not an exhaustive list. Probably most of us could add a few of our own. Jesus says that these sins come from within - out of the heart.
There are a number of ways that have been suggested as to how this list can be divided up. Seemingly the most helpful is to divide the list into two separate categories. One category deals with sinful behavior and category two deals with sinful thoughts.
Meaning it’s all sin. Sinful actions and sinful thoughts. And while God’s ceremonial law is not something that we’re bound by - each of us - Jew - Gentile - whoever - we all are still accountable to God’s moral law.
Then Jesus ends by saying - yet one more time: “All these things come from within, and they defile a person.” Like Jesus is getting in the face of the disciples. “Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand that all these traditions are meaningless?”
Jesus being deeply concerned that His disciples understand the difference between what they’ve been taught about what it means to be right before God and what God - by His grace - is offering to them in Jesus.
Processing all that…
A while back our friends at the Babylon Bee reported this: “Incognito Mode Now Safely Hides Internet Activity From God.”
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA—In an exciting update to Google’s popular Chrome browser Tuesday, the technology giant announced a major breakthrough, beefing up the program’s privacy and encryption protocols in its “incognito mode” such that even God Himself can’t intercept or recover websites visited while using it.
Incognito mode, used occasionally for buying birthday gifts but otherwise used almost entirely for browsing porn or other filthy material, previously prevented only the local computer from keeping a record of websites visited and searches performed.
The Google Chrome team was proud of its accomplishment.
“Our competitors’ browsers still allow the Almighty to peek in on the shameful content you guys view every day,” Chrome product manager Stephen Konig said in a statement announcing the update. “When you use Chrome, you’re getting a safe, reliable, fast web-browsing experience, and now you don’t have to worry about being accountable to any kind of righteous, sovereign Judge.”
“But still—be careful your wife or kids don’t walk in on you when you’re ‘going incognito,'” Konig said. “We can’t help you there. Lock the door, guys.”
Immediately after the update hit, Google’s servers crashed for several hours, as hundreds of millions of men worldwide rushed to download the update. (2)
One take away question. How’s your heart?
Maybe we’ve been around “church” for so
many decades that intellectually we get what Jesus is
certainly heard it before.
Maybe we can even try to convince ourselves that
we get Jesus in what we’re experiencing in our
relationship with God and things aren’t all that bad.
All that is like taking a shower with a
raincoat on. It
just washes the outside.
Our sin is still sin and our depravity remains.
I don’t like to think of myself as a hypocrite. I’m not sure any of us does. But it’s sobering to think that when we think we’re not, we are. If we think it’s all good, it isn’t. When it comes to our sin we are so self-deceived.
Is it possible that we can be outwardly having this image of living righteous and maybe even thinking that we’re living righteous - for the most part - and yet inwardly - at the heart level where God sees us - we’re really messed up? Maybe even deep down we know that and we struggle to let God deal with all that.
We don’t have a sign in the restroom that says, “Christians must wash hands before returning to the Service.”
The problem we all struggle with is much deeper and much harder to deal with than how we wash our hands or how we’re doing church or how we’re living out our relationship with God. What matters is our heart. Our hearts that are desperately wicked to the point where we don’t even recognize our own depravity and how we’re relying on our own efforts to deal with our failures and to somehow to be right with God.
If Jesus’ disciples - and each of us - if we’re really understanding Jesus’ explanation - what He’s saying is “You’re in terrible shape. Much worse than you thought.”
And yet Jesus is saying, “It’s Me. I’m the answer you’re looking for. I’m the remedy to your sin. Trust Me. Not all the outward things you’re doing for God. Trust Me and God will purify your heart. God will deal with your heart.”
There is such an incredible hope for all of us in what God offers us in Jesus. In what Jesus is offering us in Himself.
1. Alfred Eldersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1936), Volume II, page 11
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®),. copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.